Social Procurement: Insights from social enterprise, Outlook Victoria

Today we welcome Sam Sondhi, CEO of social enterprise Outlook Victoria, to discuss how his organisation helps companies meet both social and sustainable procurement requirements of Victoria’s Social Procurement Framework.

Outlook Vic Sam Sondhi

What makes Outlook Victoria a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is considered to be any organisation that trades with the primary intention of solving a social issue. At Outlook Victoria, we believe employment is fundamental for economic and social inclusion, so our social enterprise, Outlook Environmental, was founded more than 20 years ago to create employment opportunities for a range of priority jobseekers, but primarily people with disability.

Social enterprises also need to stand on their own two feet and be commercially viable. When we saw social procurement on the horizon, we positioned Outlook to service that demand. We offer a socially focused solution that is also commercially viable for our partners. Through this we’ve demonstrated that inclusive businesses can be financially successful and deliver social outcomes at scale.

Much of our work is funded by the success of our social enterprise, Outlook Environmental. All profits derived from our social enterprise operations are reinvested back into the organisation to support Outlook’s mission of growing, promoting and advocating an inclusive community.

What services does Outlook offer to help meet social procurement requirements?

Outlook Environmental specialises in the provision of resource recovery/waste management, e-waste processing and labour hire services to a large range of commercial and government clients. These also align with the goals of Victoria’s Social Procurement Framework.

Waste management services involve sorting and recycling the waste from projects and customers of all sizes, thereby reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. We’ve been particularly successful supporting infrastructure projects, which produce waste such as old sleepers, plastic tubing, concrete and cardboard. Local government is another significant client.

The waste is sorted at our facilities. Out of approximately 130 employees, 40% have a disability and more than 70% identify from a priority employment group that includes refugees, asylum seekers and the long-term unemployed. Many have been encouraged and assisted to obtain forklift, loader and excavator tickets. In this way we provide a commercially competitive service, while achieving meaningful and measurable environmental and social outcomes.

We are also an e-waste processor, dismantling e-waste into component parts so that the materials can be recycled. This work is funded by the National TV and Computer Recycling scheme, which levies a fee on importers of a range of electronic goods into Australia.

How can businesses engage with Outlook Environmental and other social enterprises?

Prior to the advent of Victoria’s large infrastructure projects and the release of the Social Procurement Framework, our relationship with industry has in some respects been transactional.

However, the sector is moving to an even more effective form of engagement, where social enterprises build relationships with industry and government ahead of a tender. This is the best way for both industry and government to understand our capabilities and the full breadth of what we can offer, instilling confidence there is a value fit.

In line with this new model, Outlook Victoria has been getting involved in bidding processes from the early stages. We have been proactive in forming informal joint ventures with corporate partners and have been invited to join a range of consortia.

We won the Westgate Tunnel on that basis, where we formed a joint venture with Haulaway, a local commercial waste collection and waste management service. The Westgate Tunnel was a large project that carried delivery risk and it was worth us making an investment to work with someone who had skin in the game. We’ve also been involved in several other large projects, including the Mernda Rail Extension, Level Crossing Removals, Metro Tunnel, the Rail Infrastructure Alliance and the Western Roads Upgrade.

We are always looking to find corporate partners that share our values and with which we can we make long-term investments.

What are the benefits for industry of engaging with social enterprises?

With the establishment of Victoria’s Social Procurement Framework, social and sustainable procurement is fast becoming the new normal. By engaging Outlook Victoria or other social enterprises in the value chain, companies bidding for government contracts have a greater chance of meeting the Social Procurement Framework requirements and, all other things being equal or better, winning those contracts.

We have also seen benefits beyond the transactional relationship, especially with corporates, where their employees are embracing the relationship and starting to offer other supports, such as volunteering and advice.

Social enterprises are benefitting from these relationships as well. We want to work with businesses that share our values, and engagement with the private sector helps us deliver on our intended social outcomes. We need to be able to prove we can deliver these outcomes in order to remain credible.

In addition, connecting social enterprises with the commercial sector will help our sector to mature. There are still only a handful of mature social enterprises in what is still an emerging market. Social enterprises need to continue to grow in order to compete effectively.

Outlook Victoria is a leading provider of disability support and employment services in Victoria.

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